Beijing (AsiaNews) - Hunan provincial authorities have launched a new probe into the suspicious death on 4 June of Li Wangyang, a dissident who played a leading role in the Tiananmen protest. He was found hanging in hospital whilst under police guard. Initially, local officials said he had committed suicide, but a wave of protests, especially in Hong Kong, and pressure from public opinion "convinced" the authorities to reopen the case.
"Apart from entrusting authoritative forensic experts from outside the province to conduct an autopsy, [we] have launched a further probe by a team of experienced criminal investigation experts," a spokesman for the Hunan provincial public security bureau said yesterday.
The announcement shows that the authorities no longer considered Li's death a suicide or an accident.
The spokesman admitted the probe was largely prompted by the persistent attention and concern over Li's death by overseas media and the public.
Li was a labour activist in the 1980s. He spent 13 years in prison as a "counterrevolutionary" because he had led a Workers Autonomous Federation in Shaoyang during the wave of demonstrations that swept the country in 1989.
After he was released in 2000 on medical ground, he was sentenced to an additional ten years for "subversion".
His body was found hanging on 6 June in a hospital room under police guard place there because of the anniversary of the 4 June 1989 massacre.
His friends and other dissidents reacted to the news of his death by demanding a new inquiry into his death, even though they doubt much can come of it.
In fact, the authorities cremated the body on 9 June, a procedure they use when they want to eliminate all evidence about the violence inflicted on prisoners and human rights activists.
A fellow dissident, Hu Jia, was also arrested for speaking to the foreign press about Li's alleged suicide.
Hu was held overnight by police. "The ostensible reason was because I gave interviews to foreign media, particularly a face-to-face interview," he said. However, "I am totally sure that they just want to limit my personal freedom."
Hu, who was released last year after serving a three-and-a-half jail term for "subversion" is known as a go-between Chinese dissidents and foreign media.
He also played a crucial role in the case of Chen Guangcheng, the blind lawyer who was at the centre of a diplomatic tug-of-war between Beijing and Washington. In fact, he helped secure Chen's departure from China because of constant violation of his human rights.
Now that Chen is New York, Hu said he would like to visit his mother. "Since Guangcheng left, his elderly mother has been on her own at home, with just the little dog and a few chickens for company," Hu explained. "I want the old lady to see her son's image."